Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 27 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator McCarthy:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The need for the Morrison Government to explain how re-badging its inadequate loan scheme is good enough for tens of thousands of struggling small businesses that will face the impact of JobKeeper cuts on 28 March.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's discussion. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
I take the opportunity to congratulate Senator McCarthy for submitting this matter of public interest for discussion this afternoon. The matter of public interest is the government's callous withdrawal of JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and it will have a particular effect on my home region of the New South Wales Central Coast. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a two-track economy. At business forums that I've been hosting around the Central Coast, I've been delighted to hear that local manufacturers, such as the bin company SULO, have been going gangbusters and are desperate for extra trained staff. Other businesses in our world-class tourism, arts and events sector are doing far, far worse. This is, indeed, a reflection of the profound patchiness of the recovery of some jobs, and there are also indications of further major problems from this government about the capacity for people who need to employ people to find workers to do the work. There's a litany of failures that have led to that reality in the country.
JobKeeper was a vital part of the stimulus that halted the economic wrecking ball that COVID initially threatened. It was part of a stimulus that government, Labor and the union movement all worked together on in a rare act of bipartisanship, a vital stimulus of the same kind that the Liberal and National parties railed against in the GFC when Labor did it. But I would rather them be hypocrites than do the wrong thing for the country. They didn't want to do it. They didn't want to support JobKeeper and JobSeeker. But, ultimately, they pushed the panic button, recalled the parliament and responded to Labor's leadership on this matter.
At the height of the pandemic, the payments were sent out to 3.5 million workers, and that's nearly a third of the national workforce. It was done so to keep workers tied to their workplaces. Around 11,000 local businesses on the Central Coast of New South Wales are actually receiving JobKeeper. That's 47 per cent of all businesses on the Central Coast. So nearly half the businesses there are on JobKeeper. That means that thousands of Central Coast jobs are at risk when Scott Morrison and Mr Josh Frydenberg pull the rug out from under those businesses in just 11 days. In New South Wales, the NSW Business Chamber have reported that across the state 23 per cent of businesses that they surveyed believed they were at high risk of failure when supports such as JobKeeper ended. But you would never know that from the sorts of answers to questions we had today here in the chamber. That just further reflects a government completely out of touch with the reality of small businesses under incredible pressure.
The businesses that are most likely to go under are, indeed, those small and medium enterprises which, pre-COVID-19, were the engine room of the Australian economy and, more particularly on the Central Coast, our great local employers. Independent economist Nicki Hutley thinks 100,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the JobKeeper cuts, which would also take around $5 billion out of the economy. Deloitte Access Economics also reported that around 40 per cent of all businesses in the hospitality, professional services and transport sectors do not have the cash reserves to cover more than three months of operation in the current environment. This clearly, for anybody who understands small business, is an unsustainable situation. There are particular industries that we absolutely need to save. This government has failed to do the work to locate the pressure points and deliver what is needed for small businesses across this country in any way that actually meets the demand.
On 12 February this year I visited the historic Avoca Beach picture theatre to speak to the wonderful owners, our local legends Beth and Norman Hunter. I spoke with them about the drastic effects of COVID-19 on their business and on all independent cinemas across the industry. They told me they were terrified about the effects of the cancellation of JobKeeper on their 30 staff members, and their complaints to the government on behalf of the sector continue to fall on deaf ears. They weren't just advocating for themselves; they were advocating for cinemas right across this country. We need to do far more to support local independent cinemas. No case of COVID-19 in the world has been contracted in a movie theatre. We need to support our local cinemas and local industries that are doing it tough. If you haven't been to the movies in a while, senators, I encourage you all to do so to support a local cinema. They need your assistance.
On that same day I also had the privilege to visit EI Productions, a proud family-run local business in West Gosford that provides expert lighting and technical expertise to live music productions. If you've been to a fantastic concert featuring a major Australian or international band, there's a pretty good chance that they were the ones who did the lighting and sound and gave you a great show. Pre pandemic, this business, based in my local area on the Central Coast, was one of the top performers in its field in Australia. But the shutdown of the live music industry and global travel have left this once-bustling business absolutely struggling. It's exactly the kind of business that JobKeeper was created to protect and is now being abandoned by this government. It was a competitive industry leader, now brought low not by wilful neglect or poor business techniques but by a once-in-a-generation pandemic that has crippled this specific industry. The government needs to listen. The government needs to support exactly these kinds of local businesses. The government needs to extend JobKeeper to hardworking Australians like Caroline and Neale Mace.
The industry group representing the New South Wales events industry, Save NSW Events, recently surveyed their industry. They found out what the government couldn't hear—that is, 95 per cent of those businesses were on JobKeeper. The whole industry declined to the tune of almost 82 per cent from April to December 2020. The survey reported that 45 per cent of those companies will lay off staff and 42 per cent will have to close their doors when this government rips JobKeeper away. What they need is targeted support to keep their doors open till better times arrive. We cannot allow the two-track economy to continue; otherwise, we're going to have an incredible loss of capacity and devastation of job loss for those people who simply have nowhere to go and put their great skills to work.
What the government's decided to do to these businesses that have been struggling for more than 12 months with this massive downturn is give them another layer of debt, offering them loans instead of the support that they need right now. While it's better than nothing, it's going to mean that businesses taking on further debt to survive—with the vaccine rollout far away and increasing variants of the virus—will be forced by this government to take on liabilities in an increasingly insecure environment. These loans may even be rejected by banks on risk grounds, leaving businesses with no support whatsoever. The government's got pretty poor form on organising loan programs. The last one was so poorly organised and promoted that only five per cent of funds went out the door. But they announce the big sum, they get the razzle-dazzle announcement out of the way, and then the disaster follows behind closed doors. That's what they keep getting away with. But time's up.
This sort of action isn't sufficient. It isn't smart policy. It isn't right. The data is there. The indicators are there. The peaks of the industries that are at risk are revealing the shape of need for small business in this country. But this government is blind and deaf when it comes to that and refuses to respond. Mr Morrison's government, which is not listening, and the invisible member Lucy Wicks have shut down the Ettalong Centrelink office at this time. Knowing for over two years that the lease was ending, they didn't find another location and instead let Centrelink go. This is a gut punch to people on the peninsula at a time when they absolutely need this office. We're approaching a cliff, with JobKeeper being withdrawn on 28 March. This government, who closed a Centrelink office, will bring businesses to the brink of disaster. (Time expired)
Well, well, well! The fox is in the henhouse. Here we go. We've got Labor suddenly worried about small business. Get real! This is the fox that wants to destroy small business. This is the party that wants higher taxes. This is the party that wants higher energy prices. Just before, I put forward a motion to support nuclear energy, which would give us clean, green, baseload energy. No. What do they do? They want to vote against it, against another way to lower energy costs. If the Labor Party were really serious about small business, they'd vote with us on these IR reforms, which would help improve flexibility and give employees and employers the opportunity to get back to work—but, no, not the Labor Party.
Let's look at the Labor state premiers. What have they done? They have destroyed confidence and they have replaced it with fear. They have used COVID as a method of command and control. That is Labor's modus operandi all the time—to instil fear into everyone. I happen to know someone from the music industry. I've been talking to them very closely. They need open borders, they need consistent restrictions and they need some of those restrictions lifted. When you've got restrictions that vary between states, people aren't going to travel, because they don't know if they're going to get back home. The Labor Party keep going on about how businesses are going to hit the wall, how we don't really care. It's an insult. They're trying to attack the coalition, but I'll tell you who they're really attacking. They're attacking the taxpayer. In the last 12 months, the taxpayer has forked out a total of $250 billion to support small business and their employees. At some point—this is what Labor don't seem to understand—we have to start moving forward. JobKeeper and JobSeeker were all about protecting people while we locked down to get on top of COVID. That was in order to stay locked down. Now that we're on top of COVID we have to open up and we have to increase activity.
Senator O'Neill stood there and said we don't listen. We have been listening. The overall feedback we've been getting from employers is that they can't get employees back to work. Part of the reason for that is a lot of employees have stayed home because of JobSeeker or JobKeeper. In regional Queensland they are screaming out for employees. While we continue to keep JobSeeker and JobKeeper going, it's going to encourage people to stay at home. Now we need to get people back to work. We accept that there's going to be an adjustment here somewhere, but we stand committed to supporting both employees and employers in Australia.
Labor are all about fear and negativity. I'll tell you what business rely on most—confidence. It is all about confidence. The Labor Party over there are constantly talking down the economy, constantly talking down the government, constantly talking down our recovery, constantly talking about how bad everything is and making personal smears and the rest of it. That destroys confidence. That is the difference between this side of the chamber and that side of the chamber. We on this side of the chamber are optimists. We're positive. We're glass half-full people. We're not all negative and dreary—'The sky is falling in.' No. We say: 'Get out from under the doona. Get out there and enjoy the sunshine. Let's get on with it.'
I have talking points here. I didn't bother printing them all off, because there are 16 pages of talking points about just how much we have supported small business in the last 12 months and, to be quite frank, since the start of this country. Our whole party was founded on the 'Forgotten people' speech. It was all about small business. We on this side of the chamber understand that small business is the heart of capitalism. Small business is the heart of individualism. Small business is the heart of autonomy, independence, freedom, making up your own mind and choosing what you want to do with your life. Small business is the backbone of this economy. We have stood here shoulder to shoulder with small businesses to make sure that they survive.
The fox comes in here, into the henhouse, and pretends that it's a chicken too—'Bwok, bwok, bwok'. No, I don't think so. We can see the fox here, and it is on that side of the chamber. The Labor Party hate small business. They have always imposed more regulation. They have sold the infrastructure that small business relies on to provide them with cheap energy and cheap water. You only have to look at what the state Labor government have done. They've sold all of our infrastructure to foreign owners. They do not build dams. Not only do they not build dams but they tear dams down. They have shut down small maternity wards in regional Queensland.
People don't want to go to regional Queensland. You won't get doctors going to regional Queensland. I was at the rural doctors lunch yesterday and the rural doctors were saying how families just won't move to regional towns because they don't want to go to a town where there are no good health services. You only have to look at Queensland Labor's record in shutting down over 30 maternity wards—many in towns that now have populations that are bigger—to know that Labor do not care about the little guy. I'll make an exception for Senators Sheldon and Sterle. I know those two guys care about the little guy, but the left wing of the party are all about telling small businesses how to live their lives and what they should be doing, increasing regulation and increasing taxes. That is not the way forward. I'm going to read out all the support that the coalition government has provided to small business. For a start—
An honourable senator interjecting—
We don't have enough time. I'd have to move a motion to get the rest of the MPI time to go through it all. I'll go through a couple of pages. There are 16 pages here. There has been billions and billions and billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars of support courtesy of the taxpayer, who just happens to be small business, and courtesy of course of our children, who are going to have to pay some of this COVID debt off. We need to get business moving forward again so that we start paying the debt off and don't leave it to our children. It's the coalition government that has cut the tax rate for small and medium business from 27.5 per cent to 26 per cent. We've got a long way to go, because with holding rates we've got to lift. I'm working on that one; don't worry.
What else have we done? We've also accelerated personal income tax. That matters. I'll tell you why. The lower the income tax is for individuals when you give a pay rise, the more money they get to keep in their pocket. That is a future benefit that flows through to the economy. We've also expanded small business tax concessions. Small business now can get an immediate write-off of 150 grand. I know farmers especially like that one because they can go buy a new tractor, new plough or whatever. So that's a really good one. As well as that, we've simplified our credit framework and improved access to finance. We've been supporting small business research and development, increasing the refundable research and development tax offset to 18½ per cent and removing the annual cash refund cap for small claimants.
The other thing we've done is reform Australia's insolvency framework. We've enabled small business to get paid faster by introducing a payment times reporting framework and the procurement connected policy. That is really important because it is incredibly important that small business gets paid as quickly as possible to keep the cash rolling in. We've supported small business with tax disputes. We pushed back on the ATO. Like all bureaucrats, they tend to get a bit carried away and a bit Orwellian and dystopian in the way they like to bully small business. We've said: 'Enough's enough, boys. Just remember who's paying your wages.'
We've reduced the regulation and compliance costs. We've increased digital capability. We've invested in the mental health of business owners. We've worked to get our workplace relations settings right, which comes from these industrial relation laws, which are actually going to give more flexibility to both the employer and the employee. We've encouraged Australians to go local first. We've got to keep working on that. We need to do more work there, but we will go and do that. For this recovery scheme, we've increased the split from 50— (Time expired)
Buried in that load of tripe from Senator Rennick was an admission that we're facing a massive austerity budget coming down the line. As we know, austerity doesn't work and, of course, it is the poorest of Australians who suffer the most under neoliberal austerity budgets.
Reports that the government is planning to extend their small business loans are yet another example of this government looking extremely busy but actually not doing very much. I want to be really clear: there is of course merit in extending the scheme. Many small businesses are likely to continue to struggle, all the more so once JobKeeper finishes at the end of this month. But, if the government—Senator Rennick would be interested in this, I feel—actually wanted to help small businesses, they'd go to one of the root causes of the problem: that Australia's financial system, aided and abetted by the big corporate banks, is rigged in favour of housing.
Over the last 30 years banks have gone from lending twice as much money to businesses as they did for housing to now lending twice as much money for housing as they do to businesses. Under the reign of the neoliberals Australia's financial system has gone from one that served the real economy by providing loans for productive enterprise to one that serves the speculators in the housing market by providing ever-larger loans for those investing in ever-increasing house prices. The Productivity Commission undertook an extensive inquiry into competition in the financial system just three years ago, and it found this: the reform that would most significantly improve small- to medium-enterprise access to finance would be changes to the underlying prudential requirements for SME lending compared with lending for residential mortgages.
So there you have it. You know the words. Fix the financial system so it's not rigged in favour of housing speculators. That's what we should be doing. Make it so that the banks aren't able to lend so much more against their capital holdings for housing as they are for small businesses. That would help put some balance back in the financial system and our economy in favour of people who are actually doing something with the money they're lent rather than betting and speculating on ever-increasing house prices.
It's not surprising that the government's small-business loan scheme has been oversubscribed. But there is no such issue in the housing market, I can assure you. Over the past 12 months, consumer lending for housing grew by 44 per cent, the highest rise over any 12-month period on record. In part, this is thanks to the RBA's ambivalence about the flow of credit. What has happened is this: the RBA has printed hundreds of billions of new dollars, pumped it into the financial system and said to the banks, 'Basically, you can do what you like with it.' Not surprisingly, with spending down and business confidence low, the banks have said, 'Oh, well, we'll stick that money into the housing market.' No wonder an entire generation of young people are being priced out of the great Australian dream of owning their own home.
But even that is not enough for the Liberal and National parties in here and their corporate banking masters, despite the largest increase in consumer lending on record, an increase in risky lending, according to APRA figures released just yesterday. The government has introduced legislation to abolish responsible-lending laws to make it even easier for the banks to lend money. This government and their corporate banking masters want even more money to flow into one of the most overpriced housing markets on the planet. Like just about everything this government have done in response to the pandemic, their plans to rip up responsible-lending laws are, firstly, all about helping their big corporate mates and, secondly, leaving ordinary Australians to fend for themselves—and that of course includes small business. What small business really needs is the same as what everyone else needs, which is for the Liberal and National parties to stop acting as agents of the big corporate banks in this place.
We need the rules in the financial system and the tax system to be rewritten so that we reward and support productive enterprise and the rapid transition to a zero-carbon future, and we stop rewarding and supporting financialised capitalism and all the other corporate rent seekers who will not stop until they have taken control of every corner of our economic system.
I want to thank Senator McKim for his contribution to this debate, considering the one we had earlier from Senator Rennick. I also rise to speak on this matter of public importance that's been brought before the Senate today, and surely just a few days away from this government's premature ending of JobKeeper. This matter could not be of any more public importance than it is right now.
Over the course of the past 12 months, JobKeeper has been a lifeline for millions of Australians right around the country. This time last year, as many of our fellow Australians faced the prospect of losing their livelihoods, to have JobKeeper there to support them at that time could not have been more important. As important as it was then, it remains so now. Whilst it is certainly the case that in some areas of the economy there has been a steady transition towards relative normality, for many the future continues to remain uncertain. In fact, it is estimated that in my home state of Victoria the premature ending of JobKeeper will impact upon 134,000 businesses employing around 413,000 workers—almost half a million workers in my state alone. For those 413,000 workers, the same concerns they had this time last year persist today. For those workers, transitioning to relative normality may have been a fortunate thing. But it is not an option. Some of them may work in retail, in hospitality, in restaurants, in tourism. But that is by no means the extent of it. Many industries other than those will be affected by this decision of the coalition government, and that is because for them the recovery, such as it is, is yet to be realised. For them the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic remain, and this couldn't be more the case than it is in my home state, where the pandemic has brought quite profound disruption. Whilst those in other states were at bars, at cafes and at restaurants, roaming their regions or simply getting on with their lives as best they could, Victorians, through no fault of their own, were mostly confined to their homes, only in rare instances permitted to stray just five kilometres beyond their local area. I was obviously one of those Victorian, and take it from me: the economic effects of this remain. The support that was put in place, particularly JobKeeper, continues to be welcome and it is, quite frankly, needed.
One must ask oneself: what could possibly possess this government to think that cutting the safety net for these workers whilst they remain dependent on it is a good idea? We've heard from members across the aisle justification after justification. But the reality is there are people who will do it tough, who will struggle, who need that support from their government. That is why they pay their taxes and they look to government for support. They look to all of us here in Canberra to provide that support. What kind of government would seek to throw 413,418 working families into financial peril? I suppose, when one ponders the question, it should be hardly surprising that we see this government, this coalition government—of all governments—seeking to undertake such an action.
Let us in this place and this country not forget that JobKeeper was never a proposal that those opposite were prepared to embrace. In fact, when it was initially proposed by those in the Labor movement, those on my side of the chamber and the crossbench, it was dismissed out of hand by this government. The Prime Minister on 25 March last year said:
The best way to get help to people is through the existing payment channels … To dream up other schemes can be very dangerous.
'Dangerous' is what the Prime Minister said. What Australian workers saw as a lifejacket in a stormy sea, the Prime Minister saw as dangerous. As we have seen, JobKeeper has been anything but dangerous. Rather, it's been one of the most positive things to have come out of this place in quite some time. Thank goodness those beside me and around me, those in the community, never gave up on the fight for its establishment, and thank goodness that together we were able to successfully drag this government to the table. It is owing to those efforts that so many have been able to rely on the support they needed to get through. These are essential workers who every morning would get up to make sure that our supermarket shelves were stocked or our nurses on the front line at hospitals making sure that people got tested for COVID. These are the very people who rely on this payment along with the people that they live with or share their homes with.
It is because of many of the efforts being put in place that so many businesses, in particular small businesses, have remained afloat and so many workers remain connected to their place of work. It is a good thing that they are able to provide for their families, able to support the many local businesses that are reliant on local families and able to support their local communities in regional Australia. But the question that remains for us and for those who still require such assistance is: what is to become of them?
I note that the coalition government has recently unveiled its SME Recovery Loan Scheme. For those listening who are unfamiliar with the SME Recovery Loan Scheme, this is an initiative in which the government will seek to work with lenders to ensure that certain eligible businesses will have access to finance to get them through the many tough times ahead. But no matter how this coalition government might seek to dress up this scheme, it is by no means a like-for-like swap with JobKeeper. I can assure you that if you were the owner of a small or medium-sized business or, indeed, a worker in one of those small or medium-sized businesses, you would by no means be looking forward to what is to come in just 11 days time, when JobKeeper is scrapped. We know just how important that certainty is to business, big or small. I don't think you would have to convince anyone of just how important it is that, when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, we get the recovery right. Indeed, how we get out of this is crucial to guaranteeing our nation's future economic prosperity. At the end of the day that is all we want.
The success of Australian business is central to this. I know that the shadow minister for small business, Matt Keogh, has spoken at length with business owners from all around the country about their concerns. Should the government persist in scrapping JobKeeper without the provision of targeted additional measures, many of these businesses will close. This will have an effect not just on the businesses concerned and those directly employed by them but on other businesses that might rely on those businesses, too, and the indirect jobs that may be lost.
Labor has certainly made its own suggestions about what the government might do to improve JobKeeper. We have sought to work constructively with those opposite. Sadly, the government has not been forthcoming on this and, instead, in conjunction with other proposed legislative changes before this place, has sought to maintain an ongoing ideological crusade against working people. (Time expired)
Labor's relentless negativity appears to know no bounds, and today's matter of public importance, put forward by Senator McCarthy, is another example of this relentless negativity. Labor's newfound interest in small business is welcome, but, like all of Labor's business statements, there's no actual substance or actual policy initiative put forward. It is just criticism after criticism after criticism. On the one hand, Labor told us—and, might I add, quite rightly, in a rare lucid moment—that JobKeeper needed to be rolled back. As we announced JobKeeper we said it would be a temporary measure to assist us through the immediate crisis, would be tapered off and then would need to be stopped. Labor actually agreed with that at one stage, in one of their rare lucid moments in this space. But, of course, it doesn't take them long to try to play the populist card, the relentless negativity, and somehow suggest that the money for JobKeeper can just keep flowing and flowing.
The Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens don't seem to recognise that, through this pandemic, massive borrowings have been undertaken, all of which need to be repaid—repaid, I suggest, by the next generation and, chances are, the generation after that. Therefore, we have to be exceptionally circumspect to ensure that the debt burden inflicted on the next generation, or generations, is as limited as possible. To do otherwise would be intergenerational theft, and this parliament would be abrogating its duty and its responsibility to the next generations.
The topic that we have before us is this sort of glib dismissal of our small and medium enterprise support scheme. The topic says that somehow all we've done is rebadge it without dealing with the significant measures that are contained therein to ensure that our small and medium enterprises, the ones that we on this side seek to champion, are able to be maintained, because small and medium enterprises—employers as they are—are called employers for a very simple reason: they employ people, and jobs are the lifeblood of our community. Jobs provide the individuals who have those jobs with better mental health, physical health, self-esteem and social interaction outcomes, and they do that for everybody who lives in a household with somebody who is gainfully employed. So, in pursuing our economic measures, it is not because we believe in economic purity that we so pursue them; we pursue them because of the social dividend that is delivered by good, sound economic management.
I must say it was somewhat galling to have to listen to Senator McKim, who was one of the failed ministers of the Greens-Labor government in my home state of Tasmania that left its economy as a smoking ruin in recession. But, with the election of the Abbott government and then the Hodgman government, Tasmania has been able to go from recession to the turnaround state and, today, the standout state. These things don't happen by accident. Recessions usually occur because of bad economic management. The turnaround has occurred because of good economic management by Prime Minister Abbott and Premier Hodgman, now built on by Prime Minister Morrison and Premier Gutwein.
But, as well, we were told by the Greens contribution that somehow the financial sector was rigged in favour of the housing sector. Well, if it were rigged in favour of the housing sector, one would assume that more and more houses were being built and, if it were not so rigged, as Senator McKim describes it, there would be fewer houses being built. But how often do the Greens issue their press releases, like confetti, complaining about homelessness and the lack of housing availability? They really have this capacity, as is the wont of the Left in this country and, indeed, elsewhere, to talk out of both sides of their mouth. On the one side they say there's a housing crisis and we need more houses; on the other side, when it suits them, they say that the financial system is skewed in favour of creating too much housing. I don't care what your story is, just keep it consistent. Give us an actual position on these matters. You can't claim credibility in this space and assert there aren't enough houses and then simultaneously assert that too many houses are being built.
So I turn to Senator Ciccone's contribution, which started, not surprisingly, by thanking the Greens for their contribution. The Labor Party and the Greens cannot help themselves. They continue to be in lock step, especially when it comes to bad economic management. I don't know what the attraction is, but it is a fatal attraction. We have seen the results in my home state of Tasmania, and I would never want to see it inflicted at the national level. But, in the moments remaining, I will note that that which the Labor Party seeks to dismiss as simple rebadging includes such things as having the SME Recovery Loan Scheme increase from the current 50-50 split between the government and the banks to an 80-20 split, which will encourage more banks to support small businesses. It demonstrates the government's commitment to back those businesses that are prepared to back themselves. This is clear, good, positive policy that is simply dismissed by those economic illiterates on the other side as rebadging. I dare say they use that terminology because they don't understand the significance, importance and value of these sorts of initiatives.
The expanded scheme will also increase the size of eligible loans from $1 million under the current scheme to $5 million, and maximum eligible turnover will increase from $50 million to $250 million. In anybody's language, these are significant changes to the scheme, but they are simply and ignorantly dismissed as rebadging. Is it really the case that Labor don't understand or haven't looked at the significance of these policy changes? Similarly, the maximum loan terms under the expanded scheme will be increased from five years to 10 years, providing businesses and lenders with greater flexibility and certainty. The expanded scheme will also allow lenders to offer borrowers a repayment holiday of up to 24 months. All of these fantastic initiatives are simply dismissed as rebadging. Eligible businesses will also be able to use the scheme to refinance existing loans—another great assistance. This allows SMEs to access more concessional interest rates available under the program and to better manage their cash flows through an extended loan term and lower combined repayments. These are targeted, focused enhancements with real outcomes, but they are simply dismissed by Labor as rebadging.
You really can't take the mob opposite seriously when it comes to economic management, which in turn means employment and self-sufficiency for our fellow Australians. You've got to give it to the Labor Party—when it comes to spin, chances are there's no-one better. But, when it comes to sound economic policy, that is where they are found wanting. The Australian people are awake to them. They understand that JobKeeper funding cannot keep going. They do know that the fundamental underpinnings for SMEs to keep people in employment are required, and that is what we are delivering.
To the millions of Australians out there who have received their $700-a-week JobKeeper payment during the last nine months, who have been able to get on with their lives and have some certainty that they can pay their mortgage and put food on the table, you might be tempted to think that you owe the Liberal government for paying you this stimulus package during this difficult time. But it's really important for you to know that this wasn't the Liberal government's idea. It was many people coming together to find a solution at a time of crisis.
I'm very proud to say that the Greens were the first to raise the concept of a living wage and, at that particular time, to push the Treasurer and the finance minister to adopt a New Zealand-style or UK-style living wage, which ended up being JobKeeper. The union movement were out there advocating for a living wage. The business community were advocating for a living wage. We had this unique time in history when everyone was working together for the national interest. I remember putting out a media release on the day of the government's first stimulus package, saying we need to go further; we need to have a living wage to keep businesses going, to keep workers in certainty during this pandemic. It took two weeks for the government to come on board with the idea. And do you know what? I'm very glad they did. But they can't claim credit for this scheme, which has kept the economy going for the last nine months. It's not perfect. Nowhere near enough people got it. It was cruel and unfair in many ways that cohorts were excluded for political reasons. There were a lot of other problems with it, but let's be honest: it was a difficult time; we've never done this before.
We in this place should all be proud of how we had cooperative politics and we worked for an outcome. We need to be very clear from here that we're not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. While government regulations are in place around travel, border closures and restrictions, small business and workers will still suffer. We need to give them certainty. While government regulations are in place around travel, border closures and restrictions small business will still suffer and workers will still suffer. We need to give them certainty and we need to let them know that we have got their backs. I'm prepared to work across political lines with anyone in this chamber to make sure that happens. Let's keep the cooperative politics at the heart of what we do, not political conflict.
There is a clear need for this government to explain how rebadging this inadequate loan scheme will be good enough for the tens of thousands of struggling small businesses that are indeed staring down the barrel of JobKeeper cuts on 28 March. This is the government's third attempt at its SME loans scheme, a scheme that has already proven not to be working. The Treasurer has said that it will help small businesses to stand on their own two feet as we recover. However, what we see here is a government that's prepared, really, to push small businesses in Australia further into debt. We know that financing and access to finance are important, but we also know that this lumpy response—this particular solution—which has been given by the government, which they've been pushed into doing, isn't working particularly well so far. Indeed, I can't see it playing a meaningful role, given the government's inadequate explanation of its role.
The Treasurer is being disingenuous. He says it's about small businesses standing on their own two feet when the government is stimulating their activity by pushing them into greater debt. The government is guaranteeing a higher proportion of the loan—the fifty-fifty split with banks shifts to an 80-20 split—but, as we know, taking on more debt will only be good if you can pay it back. While holidays from debt repayments et cetera can be important, they simply do not lift the economic burden off these small businesses in a way that's meaningful. Nothing more is being done for small businesses than allowing them to be pushed into more significant debt. There's no direct funding support anymore with the end of JobKeeper.
Why is this unpopular and inadequate scheme being extended? The government promised some $40 billion in small-business assistance, but the government has confirmed in its own figures that only $3 billion has been lent under the existing scheme over the last year. We know that the revised scheme opened in October and extended the loan terms and loan size, and that only 39 lenders signed up, and the second version has only 44 lenders signing up. Since the revised August scheme to 20 January this year there have been fewer than 3,000 new loans, worth less than $300 million under the new terms. We know that JobKeeper is being cut on 28 March; the Morrison government is cutting this direct support and asking small businesses to take on further debt to continue to employ people from an already grossly undersubscribed scheme.
I think the government needs to be seen as pointing to something that it's doing. It will say, 'Oh, we've got this loans scheme as we end JobKeeper.' What we also know is that, with JobKeeper ending, the JobSeeker rates are also now heading right back down—pretty much to what they were before. This is not economic stimulus for our nation and it's not wage growth for our nation, which would see small businesses benefiting from boosted consumption in our nation.
In the Labor Party, we have made every effort to help small businesses and will continue to do so. We want this version of the scheme to work better than the last, but we believe very strongly that we also need direct support. What the government is offering is not a lifeline for small business; it's a death sentence. Small businesses and their workers deserve a real plan from this government, a comprehensive plan to help them through this health pandemic that's limiting economic activity in our nation, not a promise of more debt. The Reserve Bank governor has predicted some job shedding once JobKeeper ends and, of these workers and employees of businesses and, indeed, these very businesses, there are many that simply won't make it. They'll be on this manifestly inadequate JobSeeker amount. A third version of this unpopular scheme is simply not good enough— (Time expired)
I would like to commend Labor for finally acknowledging our small business community. This is the same party that, last election, offered nothing for small business except more union power and increased costs of doing business. Since that election, small business has not featured in Labor's policy manifesto whatsoever. Yet here they are today, proclaiming to be the champions of small business. But, as usual, Labor are being opportunistic and unrealistic. They would have us indefinitely fund JobKeeper at the expense of real business support mechanisms we have put in place to create jobs. We heard today from Senator Birmingham that over 800,000 jobs have been created in Australia in the last six months alone. Unlike Labor, we have a history of supporting small business.
Ever since the coalition came back to power in 2013, we have delivered a range of policies and initiatives to make it easier to establish, operate and grow small businesses in Australia. Our policies enabled small businesses to create over 1.5 million new jobs between 2013 and the start of the pandemic. As a National, I know all too well that our regional economies, in particular, are almost entirely dependent on small businesses. From farmers to boutiques, bakeries to consultancies, hairdressers and plumbers, our small businesses keep our economy and our communities going.
COVID has been particularly crippling, particularly in the regions. These are regions almost untouched by the pandemic itself that have faced the same lockdowns, the same business closures and the same restrictions that have been imposed to manage the pandemic in urban areas. For border communities in particular, the haphazard state imposed border lockdowns and restrictions that have come off and on and off again have been particularly crippling. It's made it impossible for businesses to try to manage and plan for the future. And they've done so with no state compensation whatsoever, except for New South Wales, which established the Southern Border Small Business Support Grant. I commend the New South Wales government for recognising the impact that state restrictions have had on our small businesses.
At the beginning of the pandemic, our government understood that our economic recovery would be dependent on the thousands of small businesses across our nation. That's why we swung into action to support them throughout, and our measures have worked. JobKeeper was only one of those measures, and it was always temporary. Other measures we've put in place include tax credits for small businesses. Over 800,000 small businesses received $35 billion in tax credits. Labor likes to talk about the 'cut' to JobKeeper, but let's talk about the real cuts—the tax cut from 30 per cent to 26 per cent for turnovers of less than $50 million and the personal income tax cut. These are the cuts that put money back into people's pockets. The $4.9 billion tax relief through temporary loss carry-back allows companies to write off their bad years against good years—so important after the year that was. And, yes, there's the small and medium enterprise loan guarantee scheme. I thank Labor for highlighting this very good and very popular policy. It has already supported 35,000 loans worth more than $3 billion for our small businesses. The improvements and the extensions we're making to this scheme are wanted, have been asked for and will succeed.
We must remember JobKeeper was always targeted and temporary. It was there to see us through the worst of the pandemic. Thankfully, our worst has been nothing like the worst seen in other nations. Thankfully, Australia, due to our good management of the pandemic, is ready to rebuild. As we rebuild, our government will continue to support small businesses. I remind anyone listening that the best way they can support small business is to buy local and support local. Support your small businesses. Get a coffee from the cafe, get your hair done down the street and support your local small businesses.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I ask an associated question—a connected question, yet a far bigger question. My question is: even if the loan scheme is adequate, what about the big picture—that is, restoring our productive capacity in this country? Look at our electricity prices—fundamental for manufacturing, fundamental for agriculture and many other areas. Energy is the key; it's the primary driver of productive capacity. We've gone from the lowest-cost electricity in the world to the highest-cost electricity. It makes us uncompetitive. Liberal, Labor and the Nationals did that together: the Renewable Energy Target; state and federal retail schemes; the gold-plated networks; the National Electricity Market, which is really a national electricity racket; privatisation; anti-coal policies from Liberal, Labor and the Nationals; taxation.
Joe Hockey said not so long ago, 'People work from January to June to pay the tax man, and the rest they keep for the rest of the year.' It's actually worse than that. It's about 68 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics back in the late nineties and early 2000s. A person on an average income in Australia works from Monday to smoko on Thursday morning just to pay for rates, fees, levies, taxes, super charges and all the rest of it. We need to do something about that, especially when 90 per cent of our large companies are foreign owned and have paid little or no tax since 1953.
There is overregulation and the control of so many of our assets, private assets, in the hands of government. There is the Fair Work Act, for example, which I'll talk about later. The lack of water infrastructure. The governance of this country. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority destroying the Murray-Darling Basin. The loss of property rights under Labor, Liberal and Nationals regimes. These, and so many other things, are destroying the governance of our country and our productive capacity. Governance in this country is now based upon satisfying vested interests, unfounded opinions, emotions, fears, ideology. It's not based on data. It's quite often contrary to the data.
The loan scheme may or may not be inadequate for Australian businesses and workers, but the mountain we all have to climb here is stupid, reckless, counterproductive government. We need to restore our country's productive capacity.